About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

CIA's secret prisons & Bush's veto of anti-torture measure

If anybody still has serious doubts that the Bush administration has brought the United States as close as ever to being a fascist republic (my term, see if you like it!), two recent news items should help settle the matter.

In the last few days, we have found out that the CIA has secret prisons for terrorist suspects all over the world, and that people are probably being tortured in those undisclosed locations. National security adviser Stephen Hadley commented that Bush as demanded that these prisoners be treated "in a way that is consistent with our values and principles." And that's all there is to it.

Right! This is the same Bush under whose command we had the Iraq prisons scandal, of course; not to mention that the President has just threatened to veto a Senate measure (sponsored by Republican McCain), passed 90-9, that prohibits "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of US prisoners anywhere in the world. The reason the White House gave for this offensive move is bizarre: apparently, we already have laws protecting prisoners of war. OK, then, what possible harm would it do to pass a redundant law?

Back to the CIA prisons for a moment. Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General, said that Bush has ordered his administration to act "in a way that is consistent with our legal obligations, both domestically and internationally," when it comes to dealing with prisoners. OK, too bad that this is the same Attorney General who argued that torture isn't such a big deal, in line with this administration's position that terrorist suspects aren't really covered by the Geneva Convention.

Moreover, former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr said that the CIA secret prisons are precisely the sort of thing "that under U.S. law and in U.S. territory and by U.S. personnel would be clearly illegal," and that "there are very serious questions also that what's going on here is contrary to documents and treaties that the U.S. is a party to." So much for Bush, Gonzales and Hadley's contention that everything is hunkey dorey from both a legal and an ethical standpoint!

I don't want to be too paranoid, but do I smell Mussolini around the corner?


  1. Hey, I just put up my own post on this subject ... http://dailydoubt.blogspot.com/2005/11

    Visiting HRW earlier today I saw that in addition to the two stories you sight there is also the issue that the Patriot Reauthorization Act contains provisions that would make it eaiser for the federal gov't to obtain the death penalty.

    This quote came immediately to mind,
    ".. there is now a widespread tendency to argue that one can only defend democracy by totalitarian methods ... These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists." - George Orwell, from The Freedom of the Press

  2. "Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists."

    With all due respect to George, this sounds like sippery slope to me.

    Now I'm not saying I agree with tourture, and I'm not saying I trust our esteemed president's motives, but I don't think our treatment of terrorists is necessarily going to transfer to, say, anti-war protesters or others who disagree with the president.

    First off, I don't think even far right types would go for that (except maybe Ann Coulter.)

    Second, I think the design of our system makes that really difficult.
    The government can't seem to do ANYTHING without someone starting a PAC to organize people to protest against it.


  3. Massimo,

    You have come dangerously close to fulling Godwin's Law on the original post, let alone a downstream comment. :) (Godwin's Law states that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.)


  4. I don't think Orwell was making a slippery slope argument, rather he was making an argument that there IS a slope, and we should avoid going down it in the first place.

    Obviously it is not a foregone conclusion that such things we automatically lead to the imprisonment of anyone who dissents, but when the President declares the right to throw anyone he says is a terrorist in prison and keep them there for as long as says that he is at war with the abstract concept of terrorism then that is a step away from the rule of law desinged to prevent any sort of totalitarian element from taking over our government. Its not a step I'm at all comfortable with.

    Secondly, the current atmosphere might now allow for dissenters to be thrown into prison, but knowing human nature I'm not at all confident that such will necessarily remain the case. You never know when the some demagogue will whip up public fear and rationalize injustice in the name of nationalism. I'd prefer to keep the liberal restraints on the abuse of power in place.

  5. Um, "might not now allow" that should have read. Plus the other words I left out.

  6. "I'd prefer to keep the liberal restraints on the abuse of power in place."

    As would I. I'm just pointing out that we should keep our wits about us and not devolve into paranoia. There is harm in that way of thinking too.

  7. Fascist republic - yes I like it M., Godwins Law notwithstanding. Government/corportate integration with strong religious overtones. That's the short definition I've heard for fascism ever since college days (back before there was dirt). That's the direction we are headed at an very uncomfortable pace.

  8. Heck, we might not be fascist, but we are certainly not as democratic as we could be. I knew that there wasn't much coverage of the GAO report released Oct. 21 which found our electronic voting system flawed, but I didn't realize not a single wire service had covered it. I find this to be bewildering if true.


  9. Now that's a point I'm 100% with you on Hume's Ghost. After the problems with the 2000 election you would think at least the Dems would make sure 2004 went off flawlessly. Makes me wonder if THEY'VE got something to hide.


  10. Noah, check out Steal This Vote by Andrew Gumbel. In it, he explains that through America's history, vote fraud has been the norm rather than an aberation, and that Democrats have been just as fraudulent as Republicans, its just that since Republicans have been in power for the last 20 years they've been doing most of the cheating. Gumbel implies that the Democrats don't call the Republicans on cheating so that the Republicans will do the same for them.

    Which makes Walter Karp's point in Indispensable Enemies seem even stronger.

  11. To Hume's Ghost,

    Thanks for the book suggetion. In the spirit of one good turn deserving another, I suggest "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," by Greg Pallast. It deals mostly with the 2000 election and is really well sourced. This isn't just liberal paranoia.

    The only problem with Pallast is I think he's so angry about that election that he reads a little too much into the past one. Shortly after this past election he made a big deal about the fact that push polls in Ohio had Kerry winning, but the margin was too small to be significant. This doesn't mean the Reps didn't do anything shady in Ohio, I just don't think it's good evidence.

    Anyway, the book is good and offers some pretty damning evidence for Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris' complicity in stealing the Florida election. (They should be in prison, in my opinion.) If you havn't done so, check it out.


  12. Noah, read it. I'm amazed at how many memos and internal documents Palast is able to dig up. Too bad he has to work overseas to get his stuff published.

  13. I am embarassed and appalled, at both the us government and the united nations. They have found a loop hole and the are abusing it.
    I am sure these prisons have been arond for a long time and to ABUSE any human in the manner the us government is, it is just sickning.


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